Deus ex machina

There are these moments of realization.

Some come swiftly: Sitting in your hermitage above Mendocino, staring at the Pacific arc, vision folds in upon itself and reveals that you have finally reached the starting gate.

Some come slowly: As you work through your daily routine, minding the store in meticulous detail, the list of things awry becomes a bit too lengthy. The resistance has a fierce tenacity. You breathe a resigned sigh. Of course this is where it’s going.

The identification of a pathogen hinges upon perspective.

I reviewed my notes. I recalled conversations. I added 2 and two. I checked the temperature and barometric pressure. I realized that my workplace was in complete opposition to my personal momentum. I needed to move in a direction that was harmonious with my own integrity. I needed to present myself as working in full concert with my beliefs—especially since I share those beliefs with others. And especially since I really truly fervently believe my beliefs.

I have a view of the world that I wish to inhabit. It is idealistic, it is realistic in small proportions only. I don’t expect the world to ever be what I want it to be. But this is a far remove from supporting a pathogen which is working against my own view.

I did truly come to view my employer’s institution as a pathogen, a causer of disease. From the support of industrial agriculture and therefore industrial toxicity at every level of food production, to the endorsement—implicit and explicit—of unfair labor practices to the absence of commitment to a better way of doing all things, they are indeed a pathogen, empowering other pathogens, in cultivating a sick world.

However, there is another perspective.

I was the pathogen, threatening the health of their institution. And they would take the necessary measures to limit the damage I could do within their system.

It was a slowly developing realization, but the moment of clarity was crystalline. Pathogen that I was, I needed to prolong my stay, to end the possibility of two-way harm, to maintain my functionality while preparing for my own (self-induced) expulsion.

Summon the deus ex machina, garbed not as Euripides might have him, but as a simple gentleman baker. Nietzsche may sneer, but only from jealousy.

 

Effecting a Coup

In the past few weeks, I effected—and was affected by—a coup d’etat. I was both the usurper and the usurped. I survived victoriously.

I want to spend a few entries on this, to explore what happened and why, and how the benefits will likely far exceed my own expectations.

First, the basic facts: I resigned my position as Executive Chef at an Asheville institution. The reasons were numerous, and all centered upon ethics. I can’t identify a single shared ethic between the owners and me, and I found myself in an uncomfortable dilemma: either compromise my own ethics and continue to represent the café, or resign. Accepting Shakespeare’s encouragement to be true to myself, I chose the latter. It’s much easier to sleep at night that way.

Ethics are a serious matter, and so often we find ourselves in situations that violate ours. My patience with such scenarios has dwindled to zero, and though it poses financial risk, I am content with my chosen solution.

Now for the punch line: I didn’t just resign. I repurposed myself to the role of bread baker. I abdicated the command post so that I could be a worker. It’s a change that I am proud of. I vacated a compromising position, and took on a role that allows me, daily, to look at the products of my honest day’s work. I go home a little tired from the physical movement, feeling in my muscles the accumulation of lifting and kneading. I spend my work hours in meditative craftsmanship. I go home and sleep an honest round of sleep.

Like Moses leaving the Pharaoh’s palace to join his people in the brickyards, I feel at home among the workers in the kitchen. We are kindred. I have always identified with them, for in my DNA I am one of them. I am happy as I rediscover the joy of making food, of using my hands, of smelling fresh bread as it develops through so many stages.

I see it from so many kaleidoscopic angles. Each image illuminates the coup, providing greater depth to both the action and the reaction, confirming the gut feel that I have done the right thing.

More to come.

Plate-Based Activism Preview

In ten days I’ll be presenting at the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival. It’s an honor to be invited…not to mention a great responsibility to uphold.

I’ll be speaking about activism, but not in the form of leafleting, nor paying people to watch a factory-farm video. There’ll be no call to march, no organizing of a picket. These are all very powerful activities, and each brings its share of progress.

What I’ll be talking about is a very individual, almost private, form of activism, asking each person to focus on their dining plate. I call it Plate-Based Activism, and it’s as simple as this: It’s pledging that one will only put goodness on his or her plate.

“Goodness” can be defined in myriad ways. Nourishment, kindness, compassion, goodwill, influence, progressiveness, absence of harm…and I mean all of these. Wrap all the above in deliciousness, and it’s a win all around.

Given the present state of agriculture—whether growing and harvesting of plants or of animals—“goodness,” to me, points to a very concrete manifestation: The plate should contain organic plant-based food.

Plate-based activism is the key to beating Monsanto. It is the way to win the war against GMOs. It leads to a decisive victory over the factory farming of animals. These causes are nothing new. However, we often overlook the rampant disenfranchisement of American agricultural workers, which is at the core of the industrial machine. (See my previous post, below.) Plate-based activism can lead to victory there, too.

It’s not a difficult thing. The most challenging aspect is awareness—but this is a deep-rooted trait among alternative and subversive cultures. The other test comes at the market, when we make our purchases. Often we compromise due to economics. And this is when the multi-national agro-industrial corporations win. This is when goodness loses.

Think of it as a bus boycott: Do not pay the fare—even if it is cheap and the bus is a convenient form of conveyance—in hopes that the system will change. Do not be intimidated at the size of the system, nor ashamed at the smallness of the fare. Exert your economic power. If only for the sake of your own conscience.

It’s a form of saying ‘grace’ at meals: Look at your plate, take inventory of the goodness that you are propagating, acknowledge the absence of wrong-doing, and believe that all can be well.

For those of you who can attend, I’ll be presenting at 11:05 on Saturday, March 2. I’ll expand on all the above points, offer sources of information, and hopefully provide momentum for all of our personal progress.

Post-traditionalist Pecan Tart

Pecan Pie
Pecan Pie

I am included in this article (Mountain Xpress, Asheville, NC) about cooking for the holidays. My ideas have a strong connection to my upbringing, but as with all things, I’ve applied my own arbitrary updates.

With the article is my recipe for a pecan tart. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Pecan Tart

Yields one 10-inch tart
1 10-inch pie crust, pre-baked
2 1/2 cups pecan halves
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup rice syrup
1 cup soy milk
1 tbsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. sea salt
3 tbsp. flax meal
1/4 cup arrowroot, dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Toast pecans in oven for 15 minutes.

In heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine maple syrup, rice syrup, soy milk, vanilla, and sea salt. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer for 10 more minutes, stirring often.

Vigorously whisk in the ground flax meal and dissolved arrowroot.

In large bowl, combine syrup mixture with pecans, and stir thoroughly. Pour into pie crust.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, or until bubbly and browned. Let cool thoroughly before slicing.

Kohlrabi and Scapes

A Diet of Farmworker Wellness

I was recently invited to speak at a Buddhist monastery in upstate New York, on a topic which is close to my heart: How does one have a diet that promotes wellness?

I probably don’t need to specify that I spoke about a plant-only diet of organic, whole foods. I touched upon several concerns: The primary one, regarding my own well-being; secondarily, the well-being of animals, both wild and domestic; and thirdly, the well-being of the soil and water of our fair planet.

To me, these concerns interweave with and support one another, providing a beautiful and robust justification for having an organic plant-only diet. To be honest, they are on equal footing, not one of them being more important than the other.

But there was another concern I brought to the discussion, one which I believe should be given equal time and prominence with the other reasons. It is the well-being of agricultural workers.

Plainly put, industrial, chemical-based agriculture has a monstrously devastating impact on the people working in the fields.

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 10,000-20,000 farmworkers are poisoned on the job [annually] due to pesticide exposure. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that farmworkers suffer the highest rate of chemical-related illness of any occupational group: 5.6 per 1,000 workers.” (1)

The International Labor Organization has this to say about agricultural work:

“In terms of fatalities, injuries and work-related ill-health, it is one of the three most hazardous sectors of activity (along with construction and mining). According to ILO estimates, at least 170,000 agricultural workers are killed each year. This means that workers in agriculture run twice the risk of dying on the job compared with workers in other sectors. Agricultural mortality rates have remained consistently high in the last decade compared with other sectors in which fatal accident rates have generally decreased. Millions more agricultural workers are seriously injured in workplace accidents involving agricultural machinery or poisoned by pesticides and other agrochemicals. Furthermore, widespread under-reporting of deaths, injuries and occupational diseases in the agricultural sector means that the real picture of the occupational health and safety of farm workers is likely to be worse than official statistics indicate.” (2)

These summary level figures indicate the fomenting ‘perfect storm’ conditions in which field workers labor.

One factor that contributes to this maelstrom is that we do not even know the total number of agricultural workers in the US:

“The number of total migrant and seasonal farmworkers [in the US] is estimated as from 2.5 to 5 million.” (3)

Neither do we know the number of pesticide related illnesses, due to a paucity of information and neglect of reporting at various government levels.

“The difficulty of determining rates of pesticide illness is exemplified by the lack of ability to estimate the number of cases of acute pesticide illness. Although 30 states require reporting of occupational pesticide-related illnesses, many cases are not reported. Only 8 states have surveillance programs for these illnesses, and poison control center data can also lead to underascertainment. At this time only 5 states have legislation requiring extensive reporting of pesticide use, and 4 of these states require growers to report pesticide use on crops. Data collected from these pesticide use reporting programs include product name, amount applied, location, and crop type. Pesticide use reporting systems can then be linked to episodes of pesticide illness, but clinicians often are not aware when pesticide illness reporting is required in their state.” (4)

In addition to these hard-to-determine figures, the US has no national incident reporting system. This is a critical gap, since half of all agricultural workers travel from state to state, and therefore are not likely to show up in state databases.

Further, state workers’ compensation programs, which could conceivably provide estimates on such incidents, vary drastically among the states, even to the point that some completely exempt agricultural workers from benefits.

Disability programs are also inconsistent from state to state. In my current home state of New York, farmworkers are not eligible for disability pay. This complete ineligibility carries with it the absolute lack of reportage.

Health insurance information, a potentially rich source of information for epidemiologic studies, functions poorly in this regard because most farmworkers—about 70% of them–lack health insurance.

As a final insult, even death certificates, which often list the cause of death as well as the occupation of the deceased, cannot be relied upon.

“The transient nature of farmwork may have important implications with respect to studies done using death certificates… Death certificates may not reflect the contribution of farm work to a worker’s total work life.” (5)

At best, we can only say, with gross understatement, that we have a massive problem. While the lack of information is a problem for those who track the diseases, the diseases themselves are the problem of the workers. In the absence of workers’ compensation, disability pay, and insurance, all they can do is suffer through it all.

While they are suffering, working conditions worsen.

The EPA and other government organizations do regulate, if minimally, the use of pesticides and other hazardous materials. However, they provide frightening loopholes. For example,

“The Worker Protection Standard does not apply when pesticides are applied on an agricultural establishment…for research uses of unregistered pesticides.” (6)

In essence, this one exception makes American agricultural workers into laboratory test animals.

There’s more:

“Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) requires that pesticides sold or distributed in the United States be registered by the EPA. Under this statute, the EPA can only register a pesticide if it determines that the pesticide, when used in accordance with its label, will not cause unreasonable adverse effects to human health or the environment, taking into account the risks and benefits to the agricultural economy. …Since FIFRA mandates the use of a cost-benefit analysis, even health risks ‘of concern’ have been disregarded when the EPA determines that the benefits of using a pesticide outweigh the risks.” (7)

In the cost-benefit analysis, benefits are measured in terms of money. The costs or risks are measured in terms of illnesses or deaths. As has been mentioned above, these are unlikely to present themselves. It’s a bargaining process, pitting Pedro against Monsanto, like a cage match between David and Godzilla.

David, in this case, might even be a minor, perhaps even under 10 years of age. Children are very active in American fields—and these aren’t the fields of the family farm. These are industrial fields, in one of the world’s most hazardous occupations, where the only connection to family is their mother or father working alongside them for substandard pay with the exclusion of all social benefits.

“Current US law provides no minimum age for children working on small farms so long as they have their parent’s permission. Children ages 12 and up may work for hire on any farm with their parent’s consent, or if they work with their parents on the same farm. Once children reach age 14, they can work on any farm even without their parents’ permission. Outside of agriculture, children must be at least 16 years old to work, with a few exceptions: 14- and 15-year-olds can work in specified jobs such as cashiers, grocery baggers, and car washers, subject to very restricted conditions…Children [in agricultural fields] often work 10 or more hours a day: at the peak of the harvest they may work daylight to dusk, with few breaks.” (8)

This problem is as old as industrial agriculture itself, exacerbated by enough variables to make one’s head ache. But the most unforgiveable of these variables is this: children working in agriculture are explicitly exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. (9)

The plight of children in agriculture has been the focus of extensive studies by the Human Rights Watch group, who issued comprehensive reports in 2000 and 2010. Many people in our affluent, developed, and progressive society might be surprised that a worldwide human rights watch group wants to protect our children. They wouldn’t need to do so if we ourselves would.

All of these problems comprise an almost insurmountable and impenetrable wall, a barrier which protects industrial agriculture corporations from the growing indignation from the public. But no matter how angry the public becomes, it take will decades to dismantle the current legislation and enact proper protections.

Asking an agricultural worker to find her wellbeing in the current scenario is like asking her to find a strand of hay in a needle-stack. We force her into this impossible and excruciating task every time we consume the products from chemical-based agriculture, especially animal products.

According to the massive landmark report from the UN in 2010, “Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials:”

“Animal products are important because more than half of the world’s crops are used to feed animals, not people.” (10)

The magnitude of this figure cannot be exaggerated. It means, literally, that half of what we are doing is unnecessary. We are poisoning agricultural workers, children included, as a matter of choice. When we choose to eat animal products—beef, pork, mutton, chicken, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, and countless derivatives—we are supporting needless sickness and dying among the legally defenseless people who grow our food. Is there a dietary choice that is more monstrous?

By choosing a plant-based diet, we can immediately cut this impact in half. If we go further, and choose only organically produced grains, vegetables, legumes, and seeds, we are approaching eradication of the problem. We seldom have such power in our own hands.

A diet that truly promotes wellness includes regard for everyone involved. My plate does not exist in isolation. It is the product of low-paying manual labor from millions of foodworkers, whose efforts result in my own sustenance at the sacrifice of their own wellbeing.

Our sustenance has always been dependent upon others. It is only fair that we treat with respect those who feed us. To those who might bristle at such hints of altruism, consider this piece of rational-self interest: it is not wise to poison those who are responsible for our food supply.

 

Postscript:

This is not an immigration issue, legal or otherwise. The regulations were written for citizens, of course. And the chemicals are quite non-discriminatory. They will affect anyone who picks your supposed “Clean Fifteen.”

This is not about whether workers in a third world country are being fairly treated. This is about whether workers in our own developed, educated, privileged, enlightened country are being fairly treated.

As for immigrant farm labor, we have been dependent upon foreign-born workers since the founding of our country—and the problem has never been resolved satisfactorily. Our current immigrant and farm labor problems are extensions of 19th century farm-worker issues, which became exponentially more complex in the 20th century.

 

For further reading on the issues faced by agricultural workers, please see the following books, reports, and websites.

The Fruits of Their Labor: Atlantic Coast Farmworkers and the Making of Migrant Poverty, 1870-1945, Cindy Hahamovitch, The University of North Carolina Press

The Hands That Feed Us: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers Along the Food Chain, Food Chain Workers Alliance, http://foodchainworkers.org/?p=1973

What’s Wrong with Industrial Agriculture, Organic Consumers Association, http://www.organicconsumers.org/organic/IndustrialAg502.cfm

The National Center for Farmworker Health, at http://www.ncfh.org/

Farmworker Justice, at http://www.farmworkerjustice.org/

 

References:

1. “Pesticide Safety,” Farmworker Justice, http://farmworkerjustice.org/content/pesticide-safety

2. “Agriculture: a hazardous work,” International Labour Organization,  http://www.ilo.org/safework/info/WCMS_110188/lang–en/index.htm

3. “Studying Health Outcomes in Farmworker Populations Exposed to Pesticides,” National Center for Biotechnology Information, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1480483/

4. Ibid.

This report further illuminates the problem: “For farmworkers to be counted in the systems mentioned above as having pesticide-related illness, clinicians must both diagnose and report these illnesses. Most clinicians receive little training in occupational and environmental health (Graber et al. 1995; Schenk 1996). The National Strategies for Health Care Providers, a working group organized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, concluded that clinicians do not generally receive specific training in diagnosing pesticide poisonings or other pesticide-related health effects (National Environmental Education and Training Foundation 2002). One study of Washington State clinicians demonstrated that few appeared to be well versed in the diagnosis or treatment of pesticide poisonings. Even clinicians from agricultural areas on average could identify only 75% of pesticide symptom questions correctly.”

5. Ibid.

6. EPA’s Worker Protection Standard (WPS) for Agricultural Pesticides,  http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/twor.html

7. “Pesticide Safety,” Farmworker Justice, http://farmworkerjustice.org/content/pesticide-safety

8. “Fields of Peril: Child Labor in US Agriculture,” Human Rights Watch, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2010/05/05/fields-peril-0

9. US Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, Fair Labor Standards Act,  http://www.dol.gov/whd/flsa/index.htm#.UHYUrFFB0_w

10. “Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials,” United Nations Environment Panel,  http://www.unep.org/resourcepanel/Publications/PriorityProducts/tabid/56053/Default.aspx

Sustainability

With popularity often comes dilution, and the concepts of sustainability are certainly not immune. Those of us who pursue sustainability are often mystified to see the concept applied to automobiles and chemical-based agriculture. As we try to sort the simple truth from the complicated myths, we can become overwhelmed. A state of overwhelm can lead to a spell of immobility—something that we simply can’t risk. Every moment, and every resource, matters.

The word “sustainable” relates to methods of harvesting or using resources so that they are not depleted or permanently damaged. Most of us are far removed from the base resources, and therefore wouldn’t know how close we are getting to the bottom of the well. We have to rely on the word of others, yet it can be a challenge to sort through all the facts. We can, however, apply a few simple and effective practices.

It’s this easy: If you buy something in a jar, refill it with something you’ve made. Most things that you buy in jars can be prepared very easily at home: pesto, salad dressing, jam, kraut, pickles, mustard, nut butter, and many more. Reuse of glass is far more economically sound and environmentally-minded than recycling. If you can put up just one jam on your own, you are making a difference.

Also easy: Buying whole foods vs. refined foods. We are all aware that a whole grain is much better for your health, containing many more nutrients and fiber than refined grains. But there’s more to it than this. For when you buy a whole grain—or any whole food—you are eliminating the need for unnecessary processing, which in turn results in reduced resource consumption. You are also reducing the amount of discarded ‘waste’ products, which are otherwise known as ‘valuable food.’

Hand in hand with buying whole foods is the practice of using as much of the food as is possible. For example, when you buy kale to steam or sauté, and strip the leaf off the rib, what do you do with the rib? Hopefully you save it for juicing or making vegetable stock. Many vegetable trimmings have multiple lives: the base end of celery, leek greens, broccoli and mushroom stems, etc., so please make the most of them.

In the category of “a little more challenging, but doable” is this: Consider your diet beyond the usual categories of local/vegan/raw/organic/herbivore/omnivore/et-cetera-vore. Think also about useful vs. wasted calories. Many comfort foods and indulgences—pastries, for example—don’t give your body what it needs. Therefore you must consume more foods in order to maintain your balance. Should you forever give up birthday cake? No way! But the daily cupcake or double latte might be a good place to start.

For you over-achievers, consider this: Examine the production cycle of the foods you consume. Are they produced in a massive, global, market-driven monoculture? Have you read about the production of bananas, coconuts, and palm oil? Does their production—and therefore your food—embody the values that you yourself espouse? Here’s a clue: if its production occurs on another continent, you might want to investigate its affect on the workers, the land, and the wildlife. Think that you can’t give up tea, coffee, bananas, young coconuts, cacao, sugar, avocadoes, and palm oil all at once? Even if you relinquish only one, you’ve made a big difference.

But truly, don’t make this harder than it has to be. Start in a way that fits your life now, then stretch a little more in a few months. If you want the really, really easy starter list, it’s this: Go to the farmers’ market to buy your produce. That will take care of most of it. Learn to cook simple meals, with a grain, a green, and a legume. Plant a garden. Grow herbs on your windowsill. If you’re going to roast a squash, put two in the oven to make the most use of the heat. If you’ve just made a cup of tea, use the rest of the kettle’s hot water to wash your dishes.

And speaking of water, please review your use of imported bottled water. It is a far-cry from sustainable—especially to those poor souls to whom the water actually belongs. Sustainability may begin at home, but it reaches around the globe.

Whichever of these practices you engage, know that the payoffs are big and varied. There will be lower demands on the earth’s resources; fewer chemicals in our shared soil and waterways; improved health through the consumption of less prepared foods; significant reduction in packaging, and therefore trash; decreasing consumerism and maybe a crack in the foundation of our throw-away culture.

Added bonuses include deeper engagement in your daily life, and an increased sense of community, for we truly are all in this together.

Beyond all of these benefits, you will continue to learn new things. A lifetime of learning is the epitome of living sustainably, and the best way to turn negative impacts into positive effects. Is there a better compensation for good stewardship?

Labels 1036x463

Mind the Label

In recent years, there has been a strong and welcome movement towards improved labeling of foods. It is critical that we know what we are buying, certainly.  As anyone who has kept up with the food industry is aware, words on labels don’t always match our expectations. We should never simply assume that by reading a label we fully understand a food or a person.

For example, “veganism” is increasingly jelly-rolled, glisteningly inseparably, with mystic beliefs regarding the universe, spirituality, and karma. But for me, it makes for a very unappetizing confection.

Directory 666.
You’ll probably find me in here somewhere.

To me, the doctrine of karma—the idea that a person’s deeds can bring a better or worse condition in a future incarnation–allows its adherents to rationalize the state of the downtrodden, while simultaneously assuaging any pangs of guilt. Karmic justification can be applied to any situation: the Duplessis Orphans, laboratory test animals, layer hens, veal calves, Manhattan’s homeless, and victims of hurricane Katrina. It is non-partisan and heartless. Something that reinforces the status-quo by claiming that it is divinely-ordained is something that we should avoid.

But if indeed all beings are involved in karma’s machinations, and if indeed we follow things to their logical conclusions, then we must accept that the cow’s past-life karma led it to our dinner plate. We are a device employed by the gods to deliver karma on a platter.

We are fighting the universe when we try to intervene.

To me, karma is working at cross-purposes with my very rational choice. This is specifically why I do not like it being tossed in a salad with my diet. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way.

I am not a plant-eater because I am working out karma. I am not a non-carnivore because I want to avoid racking up bad karma. My diet is not part of, nor in pursuit of, a chimerical enlightenment experience. It is, however, anchored in one core motivation: a desire to be free from cruelty.

It really is quite simple: A decent person would not inflict pain upon someone. Putting this in a mystical wrapper does nothing to increase its strength. In fact, it weakens it by dilution. Keeping it stripped down and “secular” works perfectly well.

Regarding pain and suffering, and the extreme cruelty associated with 99% of animal-based food products, I encourage you to read “Eating Animals,” by Jonathan Safran Foer. See the short film “Meet Your Meat.” Go visit a livestock feedlot or slaughtering house. Investigate egg factories or dairy farms—or the production of foie gras.

Then read “The China Study,” and realize that not only is all of this suffering completely unnecessary, it is also harmful to your own self.

However, if you require a universal philosophical statement, consider Principle 14 from the Humanist Manifesto:

The world community must engage in cooperative planning concerning the use of rapidly depleting resourcesThe cultivation and conservation of nature is a moral value…We must free our world from needless pollution and waste…Exploitation of natural resources, uncurbed by social conscience, must end.

Again, this affects every living thing, not just humans. By adopting a plant-based diet, I am helping to improve living conditions for all—or at the very least, I am not contributing to the problems. Not sure? Consider these two simple facts concerning water:

  • Conservative estimates by the EPA indicate that chicken, hog, and cattle excrement has already polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states (for reference, the circumference of the Earth is 25,000 miles). (Foer, “Eating Animals,” page 79)
  • 12,000 gallons of water are necessary to yield 1 pound of beef. By contrast, only 200 gallons of water are necessary to yield 1 pound of wheat. Likewise, it takes from 2 to 20 pounds of grain to produce a pound of meat. (Composite numbers derived from “Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials,” published by the United Nations, 2010; Lappe & Lappe, “Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet.;” Cornell University, http://www.extension.org/pages/35850/on-average-how-many-pounds-of-corn-make-one-pound-of-beef-assuming-an-all-grain-diet-from-backgroundi )

 

These facts don’t even address problems associated with land, air, or other resource utilization. For me, no spiritual impetus is required. There is enough impetus presented in this readily-available information.

Regarding the subjection of animals to cruelty, I will confess that I do not believe that animals are our equals—and I can only evaluate this with such anthropocentric metrics as scientific and literary accomplishments, food production, and warfare. This inequality makes it all the more important that our relationship with them be based in fairness at the least, preferably with a measure of compassion. To exploit those less capable than us is to create a very ugly humanity.

Further, I firmly believe that animals feel pain, enjoy a wide variety of thoughts, express emotions, and communicate and interact with their own kind as well as we do with ours. Believing this only reinforces my desire to allow them to experience their lives as freely as I experience mine.

We can witness daily our species’ cruelty towards itself. This cruelty is not diminished in the least if the subject is non-human. In fact, due to a non-human’s relative defenselessness, the cruelty is greatly magnified. The pain and cruelty are in the here-and-now, as are the irresponsible resource use and the detrimental effects that animal products have on my own well-being. These are reasons enough for me to abstain.

What is the name for my particular plant-eating habit? I am not concerned that it carries a name. Labels and strict ideologies diminish, rather than enhance, my life. I see no reason to adopt a label for that towards which I’ve been moving for 15 years. I had no grand epiphany; I simply have continued to develop my humanity. I have chosen to disassociate myself, as much as is possible, from brutality. I am not fully absolved, certainly, but I am increasingly more fair and merciful.

Truly, are there any better reasons—or labels—than fairness and mercy?

Happy Holidays, 2011

I just finished teaching a workshop focused on happy & healthy eating for the holidays. This workshop featured recipes which I developed specifically for this year’s holidays, along with nutritional instruction from Donnalynn Civello. You might enjoy these for your own holiday celebration.

Why not welcome your guests with a nice Vanilla Bean Holiday Nog? This egg & dairy free rendition is rich with memory and celebration.

When it’s time for the meal, offer your friends and family this fabulous main course: Chorizo Stuffed Kale Leaves, Quinoa Stuffing, and Roasted Sweet Potato Casserole. The Pumpkin & Hemp Seed Pesto is a tasty and concentrated accompaniment to each item on the main plate, so put a generous dab so your guests can have a little in each bite.

Follow the main course with a bit of Spiced Apple Cider, paired with some nice Molasses Spice Cookies. Or perhaps a decadent Pecan Tart?

If your guests are staying overnight, consider a late breakfast of Baked Oatmeal, with Orange Creme Anglaise and Cranberry Compote.

Happy Holidays!

 

Vanilla Bean Holiday Nog
Yields: 4 Servings

1 quart almond milk
1 cup coconut-based vanilla ice cream
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 banana
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
3 tablespoons dark rum, optional

Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend till completely smooth.

Serve with dusting of nutmeg, cinnamon, or cardamom.

 

Chorizo Stuffed Kale Leaves
Yields: 4 Servings

1/2 pound tempeh
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin ground
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 tablespoon tamari
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 kale leaves

Crumble tempeh in large bowl. Add fennel seed, smoked paprika, ground cumin, cayenne, sea salt, and tamari. Mix well.

Warm the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and tempeh, and sauté until tempeh has lightly browned. Remove from heat.

Carefully trim kale leaves so that they can be rolled around filling. Add 1/2 to 1/3 cup of tempeh to a kale leaf, and roll lengthwise.

Place filled leaves in a steaming basket. Steam for 6 to 10 minutes. Serve while still hot.

 

Pumpkin and Hemp Seed Pesto
Yields: 1 cup

3/4 cup pumpkin seed, raw or toasted
1/4 cup hemp seed
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Place pumpkin seeds into a food processor. Process briefly to break down the seeds.

Add remaining ingredients, and process into smooth uniform mixture.

 

Quinoa Stuffing
Yields: 4 Servings

1/2 cup pecans
2 cups water or vegetable stock
1/2 cup quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 tablespoon rosemary, minced
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon sage
5 dried figs, diced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 sprigs fresh thyme

Heat oven to 350°.

Toast pecans in oven for 15 minutes. Chop and set aside.

Bring water or stock to boil, add quinoa, then lower to simmer. Simmer for 12 minutes, or until quinoa is done. Drain excess water and set aside.

Warm olive oil in heavy-bottomed sauté pan. Add mushroom, onion, celery, garlic, rosemary, oregano, and sage. Sauté until onions are beginning to caramelize.

Add figs, pecans, sea salt, and thyme. Mix thoroughly and sauté for 3 minutes more.

Turn off heat and thoroughly mix in quinoa.

 

Roasted Sweet Potato Casserole
Yields: 4 Servings

2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Heat the oven to 450°.

Roast sweet potatoes for 40 minutes, or until soft. Remove, let cool, and take off peel. Mash to a uniformly smooth consistency.

Reduce oven to 375°.

Whisk together the cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, vanilla, orange juice, and sea salt. Mix into the sweet potatoes.

Lightly oil a 9×9” baking pan. Fill with the sweet potato mixture.

Mix together the maple syrup and walnuts. Spread over the top of the sweet potatoes.

Place in oven and bake for 25 minutes.

 

Spiced Apple Cider
Yields: 4 Servings

1 quart apple cider
2 sticks cinnamon
2 teaspoons whole allspice
1 teaspoon whole clove
1 inch ginger, sliced thinly

Place all ingredients into heavy-bottomed soup pot, and simmer for 15 to 30 minutes.

Strain and serve warm.

 

Molasses Spice Cookies
Yields: 2 Dozen

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5 Spice
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
3/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup olive oil
3/8 cup water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°.

Mix dry ingredients.

Mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl.

Combine wet and dry ingredients. Do not over mix.

Form quarter-sized rounds of dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes and allow to cool completely.

 

Pecan Tart
Yields: 1 10″ tart

1 10″ pie crust, pre-baked
2 1/2 cups pecan halves
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup rice syrup
1 cup soy milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons flax meal
1/4 cup arrowroot, dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water
Heat oven to 350°.

Toast pecans in oven for 15 minutes.

In heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine maple syrup, rice syrup, soy milk, vanilla, and sea salt. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer for 10 more minutes, stirring often.

Vigorously whisk in the ground flax meal and dissolved arrowroot.

In large bowl, combine syrup mixture with pecans, and stir thoroughly.

Pour into pie crust. Bake for 30 minutes at 350°, or until bubbly and browned.

Let cool thoroughly before slicing.

 

Baked Oatmeal
Yields: 8 Servings

3 tablespoons flax meal
1/4 cup warm water
3 cups rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cup almond milk
1/4 cup goji berries
1/2 cup tart cherries

Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly oil a 9×9″ cake pan or individual ramekins.

Mix together the flax meal and water. Set aside for 15 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and sea salt.

In another small mixing bowl, whisk together the maple syrup and almond milk until combined. Add the soaking flax meal and stir to incorporate.

Add the liquids to the dry ingredients, stirring until just combined. Fold in the fruit.

Spread the mixture in the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Allow the oatmeal to cool in the pan for a few minutes before serving.

Can also add orange or lemon zest, dried apricots, figs, or fresh berries.

 

Orange Crème Anglaise
Yields: 1 cup

1/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons orange zest
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 pinch turmeric
1 tablespoon agave nectar, optional
2 tablespoons arrowroot

Combine first six ingredients in heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Whisk arrowroot into an equal amount of water. Whisk this mixture into simmering milk. Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

Refrigerate and let cool completely prior to use.

 

Cranberry Compote
Yields: 6 Servings

2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup raisins
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 pinch sea salt
1 cup fresh cranberries

Place orange juice, raisins, cinnamon stick, maple syrup, and sea salt in a saucepan over low heat.

Simmer slowly till reduced by half.

Add cranberries and simmer for another 15 minutes, or until liquid is thick and syrupy.

Cool before serving.

Winter Sustenance

The freshness of the summer market lingers on my palate as we slowly transition into winter. As I reluctantly let go of sun-ripened tomatoes and delicate salad greens, I reach for winter sustenance.

Summer is a time for letting it all hang out, like a garden filled with wispily waving fennel, nasturtiums sluicing through open channels in rapids of color, and trellised vines of sugar snap peas. Winter, however, is about finding one’s grounding again, seeking the concentrated energy to be found inward.

Winter Greens Salad
Winter Greens Salad, with kale, collards, toasted pumpkin seeds, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette.

“Grounding” and “concentrated” are words that easily apply to the abundance of root vegetables available during winter. But root vegetables aren’t the only things available: hearty greens and squash are eager to provide us with the diverse nutrients needed to maintain our health and good cheer during the winter months.

A quick look at my availability chart shows me the wonderful array of vegetables that are waiting here at winter’s doorstep: Sweet potatoes, onions, cabbage, beets, carrots, turnips, parsnips, shallots, butternut and other squashes, potatoes, garlic, broccoli, leeks, kale, Brussels sprouts, pumpkin—winter is far from drab and gray!

Also, when I consider the easy access I have to dried beans and grains, as well as cultured foods like tempeh, I realize just how abundant and vibrant my winter will be.

In some ways, cooking in the winter is much simpler than in the summer. Baking a sweet potato is about the easiest thing one can do. As the sweet potato finishes, I simmer a bit of quinoa. Above the simmering quinoa, I place my bamboo steamer, into which I’ve tossed a handful of chopped kale. When I plate this tasty trio, I supercharge their highly nutritious state by drizzling on a little flax oil and some nutritional yeast. A meal could hardly be more simple, satisfying, or whole.

The following recipes were developed around produce that is available fresh during the winter, as well as dried beans and grains. They are quite simple to prepare, and being simple, they are also flexible. If the recipe calls for carrots, feel free to use parsnips. Don’t want mashed potatoes on the Shepherd’s Pie? No problem, use sweet potatoes.

Sometimes we rely too much on heavy foods during the winter, simply because they feel so good and warming. Don’t forget, however, to include hearty helpings of leafy greens. The Winter Greens Salad is a perfect way to balance a meal.

 

Mushroom and Barley Soup

8 Servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, diced
2 carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Herbs d’Provence
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
6 cups vegetable stock
1 cup barley
1/2 cup lentils
1 teaspoon sea salt
Warm the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Sauté mushrooms until they give up their liquid, about 10 minutes. Add onion and sauté for 5 minutes.

Add carrots, garlic, herbs, and black pepper, and sauté until carrots are soft.

Add vegetable stock, and barley. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower flame and simmer for 25 minutes.

Add lentils and simmer for another 20 minutes, or until lentils are done.

Add sea salt and remove from heat.

 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Fennel

6 Servings

1 pound Brussels sprouts
1 fennel bulb
4 shallots, quartered
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Heat oven to 425°.

Trim ends of Brussels sprouts and remove outer layer of leaves. Slice in half through the base and place in mixing bowl.

Trim end of fennel bulb, and remove outer layers if blemished. Cut ¼” thick slices, perpendicular to the root, up to the green stalks. Place in bowl with Brussels sprouts.

Add shallots, garlic, olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Toss well.

Place in 2 quart casserole dish. Roast uncovered at 425° for 25 minutes. Toss, cover, and roast for 25 minutes more.

 

Winter Greens Salad

4 Servings

4 collard leaves, chopped
4 lacinato kale leaves, chopped
8 red kale leaves, chopped
4 Napa cabbage leaves, chiffonade
3/4 cup carrot, shredded
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1/2 cup raisins
In wok or skillet over high heat, wilt the collard and kale in a small amount of water. Do not cook completely.

Mix cooked greens with Napa cabbage, carrot, pumpkin seeds, and raisins.

Toss with Pomegranate Vinaigrette (recipe below) and serve.

 

Pomegranate Vinaigrette

4 Servings

1 clove garlic, smashed
1 shallot, chopped
1/4 cup pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons agave nectar (optional)
1 pinch sea salt
1/2 cup olive oil
Place garlic, shallot, pomegranate juice, balsamic vinegar, agave nectar, and sea salt in blender. Blend till fully homogenized.

Add olive oil and blend until emulsified.

 

Shepherd’s Pie

4 servings

3/4 pound potato
1 small onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup non-dairy milk
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, diced
1/4 pound parsnip or carrot, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon tarragon
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 pound tempeh, crumbled
2 cups vegetable stock (divided use)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (can also use any gluten-free flour)
Heat oven to 450°.

Place whole, unpeeled potatoes and onion on a baking sheet. Put in oven and roast till potatoes are soft.

Peel and dice onion, and place in large bowl with the potatoes.

Add olive oil, non-dairy milk, sea salt, and pepper. Mash potatoes thoroughly and set aside. (If smoother, whipped potatoes are desired, use electric mixer.)

Lower oven to 350°.

Warm a large skillet over a medium flame. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then the mushrooms. Sauté till the mushrooms give up their liquid, about 10 minutes.

Add onion, parsnip or carrot, garlic, herbs, and black pepper. Sauté till onions are soft.

Add tempeh and sauté for 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of vegetable stock and ¼ teaspoon of sea salt. Simmer over low heat till stock is evaporated.

Add flour and mix well. Pour in remaining stock and simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, till gravy forms.

Place vegetable mixture into a 2 quart casserole dish. Spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the top.

Bake uncovered at 350° for 30 minutes.

 

Making the Most of the Summer Markets

The Farmers’ Markets here in NYC are riotously abundant now, and I have to contain my enthusiasm as I walk the aisles. I simply want to buy every vegetable and herb I see.

Kohlrabi and Garlic Scapes
Kohlrabi and Garlic Scapes

I don’t have a garden this year, not having discovered a way to transport to Brooklyn the Hudson Valley garden I built last year. But I’m a long way from despair: my lack of a garden means that I can benefit from all the other farms in the region.

To help me manage my enthusiasm, I have developed this short guideline for “marketing.” Perhaps it will be of use to you, too.

Take an experienced guide

The Field Guide to Produce is a fantastic little book that can accompany you to the market. Photos and descriptions of over 200 fruits and vegetables are provided, as well as handling and preparation tips and seasoning suggestions. Not sure what to do with kohlrabi? Don’t even know what it looks like? Then this book is for you!

Know the schedule

Near my apartment in Brooklyn, there are markets happening on three days of the week. As a stupendous bonus, I work near Union Square, where one of the best greenmarkets happens on four days each week. In fact, the only day on which I might have trouble getting something is Thursday. In other cities where I’ve lived, markets have been held on multiple days of the week, too. So if you’re in NYC, Dallas, Denver, Santa Fe, Saugerties, Mendocino…anywhere, get to know the schedule and make it a part of your weekly routine. I guarantee you that it’s much more pleasant than ducking into Whole Foods, not to mention enormously “greener.”

Go early, go often

If you can manage it, get to the market just as it opens. The greens and herbs will be fresher, and all the produce will have been handled the least. However, if you’re going to buy potatoes or carrots or other more ‘durable’ vegetables, go just as the market is closing. You can possibly score a better price, as the farmer would rather sell than pack it all back home. Also, if you’re buying delicate items like greens and herbs, purchase only what you’ll need for the next 3 or 4 days. Nothing is more de-motivating than watching things go bad in the fridge. When you’ve reached the end of the salad greens, hit the market again. It will become a very pleasant and peaceful routine, not onerous at all. Plus, you will have a wonderful variety of foods in your diet and on your palate.

Eggplant and Okra
Eggplant and Okra

Try something you’ve never had

Find a bouquet of epazote? Or some purslane? Go for it. Don’t fear the arugula. Embrace the amaranth. Honor the okra. And of course, love the lovage. Imagine the call you can make to your partner: “Honey, I’m feeling like some shishito tonight. How ‘bout you?”

Ask the experts

Having bought that glorious bundle of purslane, feel free to ask the farmers themselves what to do with it. They wouldn’t be growing it without knowing some great ways to use it. Also, most markets have cooking demonstrations, recipes, and a website full of information about the produce.

Master a few techniques

You’ll need some hardcore skills to prepare all this bounty. Be ready, at a moment’s notice, to: rinse, peel, slice, scoop, crank a salad spinner, shake a jar. Most of all, master the art of low oil sauté. When in doubt, this is the way to go with most summer produce that you’re not eating raw. Put a good pan on medium high heat, add a little oil, toss in the prepped vegetables, and then toss them another time or two. If you want them a little more done, then cook them till they’re a little more done. You are the master!

Have sketches instead of recipes

Since the produce at a market will fluctuate more than that at a traditional supermarket, apply some flexibility to your recipes, too. If you have a great recipe for Melon & Cucumber Soup, remember that with little effort it can be transformed into a Cantaloupe & Raspberry Soup. Pasta Primavera—in Italy it’s called “greengrocer’s pasta”– is about the most flexible idea around: buy the currently available fresh vegetables, pair them with pasta, and add a light sauce. For this, a simple herbed aioli will support all the variations. Even more than Pasta Primavera, summer salads are open doors for just about any herb, flower, fruit, or vegetable: garlic scapes, nasturtiums, squash blossoms, beets, celery root, berries, apples, fresh uncooked peas or corn. Recipes are great for generating a shopping list, but the shopping list shouldn’t be bound by the recipe.

Market Leeks

Market Leeks

Buy mindfully

To me, this means “buy organic.” Make your own decision, based on your own principles and in keeping with your budgetary limits, but remember that conventional agricultural methods contribute to depleted soils. As a consequence, nutrient levels in foods have been dropping over the past 50 years. Organic methods, such as those espoused by the Real Food Campaign, produce richer soils, and therefore richer foods. Your body gets more of what it needs. If improving your health isn’t enough, you’re also supporting the health of the farm workers themselves.

Even if you’re not missing last year’s garden, I encourage you to seek out the Farmers’ Market in your area. Many of us talk about eating seasonally and locally, and practicing a more healthy intercourse between our bodies, our foods, and our lands. There’s no better place to enact this than at the Farmers’ Market. We often hear the phrase, “vote with your dollar.” There’s no better way of doing this than handing that dollar to the farmer who grows your tomatoes—thereby enabling her or him to make the most of the summer market as well.